Additional Modalities - Cupping Therapy

What is Cupping Therapy?

During Cupping Therapy a mild vacuum is created inside glass 'cups', which are then placed on the skin to provide gentle suction,. The vacuum effect of the cups creates suction that softens tissues and increases the circulation of ki, blood,and fluids. By stimulating the skin and underlying muscles, it helps release area-specific toxins that have accumulated and encourages circulation of both blood and lymph vessels.

Cupping can be used on the neck, shoulders, back, sacral area, hip, abdomen, thigh, upper arms, calves, and in some cases even the forehead or the soles of the feet, depending on the condition. The sensation of cupping is often characterized as deeply warm and relaxing. Many people find it profoundly relaxing. It releases rigid soft tissue and stubborn knots. Contracted, tense and painful muscle tissue will soften quickly with just a few minutes of cupping.

 Cupping Therapy has been used for historically not only in China, but also the Middle East, Greece and Russia. Its use is now quite widespread, and even 'fashionable', with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow showing of the marks left by cupping therapy (see side-effects).


Methods of Cupping Therapy


Retained Cupping - The most commonly administered. The cups are applied and left in place for a length of time varying from a few seconds to a number of minutes depending on the treatment protocol, the desired effect and the response of the client.

Momentary cupping - The cups are 'popped' on and off rapidly.

Slidding Cups - Prior to applying the cup, oil may be administered to the skin to create smooth gliding movements. Then the practitioner slides the cup along a large body surface such as the back or thigh until softening of the muscle and connective tissue is observed. Pure massage oils are used to help the cups glide smoothly. Occasionally medicated oils or liniment may also be used.

Other methods - these include combining cupping with acupuncture (inserted needle cupping); combining with bloodletting (prick cupping); Combining with herbal therapies by boiling the cups with herbs, or placing herbs inside the cups.


Types of Cups


Fire Cups

The traditional method of cupping. A small cotton ball is held in locked forceps, and wet with alcohol. The cotton ball is ignited and inserted into the cup which will evacuate some air, creating a vacuum. The cotton ball is withdrawn and the cup is quickly placed on the skin in the chosen area.

Magnetic / Hand Pump

Many modern cupping practitoners use magnetic or hand pumps to create the suction. This has can have several advantages for the practition, such as requiring less skill, and no need for flame or flammable liquids. It is also easier to judge the amount of suction being used.

Materials used

Classically, Water buffalo horn was used. However in modern times bamboo, ceramic, glass or plastic cups are used. Plastic cups are becoming more common as they are cheaper. My personal preference is for solid glass cups, as they have a better feel and can withstand more sterilization than most plastic cups. However, glass cups can feel cold


Is cupping painful?

In most cases cupping feels extremely pleasant. Cupping is generally not painful, however some people who suffer from fibromyalgia or other chronic muscular disorders may feel minimal discomfort and should mention it immediately so adjustments can be made. An experienced practitioner is able to judge the correct amount of suction to use to produce optimal results. Many people report that muscle tension and tenderness continues to improve for many hours after the session is completed.


Can anyone practice cupping?

Cupping therapy is a fairly unregulated field, and although traditionally cupping has been used by lay people, for instance in family environments of a traditional culture, training is always highly recommended. A fully qualified practitioner who is a member of a professtional organisation such as STAA or AACMA should always be sought. 

This ensures a minimum level of skill for proper diagnosis and administration of a correct theraputic dosage, and is important for saftey reasons so as not be be at risk of burns and other injuries or discomforts. 


Uses of Cupping Therapy

Cupping is especially effective for chronic pain, tightness, and spasm in the middle to lower back.  

It is also very effective to reduce 'stuck' energy in the upper back and shoulders as a result of stress.  People find this very relieving and relaxing.

Cupping therapy is widely used to treat conditions such as the common cold, and upper respiratory problems such as asthma, sore muscles, tension, neck pain, joint pain, headaches, backache, abdominal pain, indigestion and Gynaecological conditions.

Cupping may be used to reduce tension and increase relaxation in general, or to treat specific conditions. Usually used for chronic conditions, but may be used for acute flu symptoms.

Is mostly used as a moving / sedating / dispersing technique, but can be used to supplement / tonify in some situations if correctly administered.


Cellulite - Massage cupping is also effective in treating cellulite. A light suction provides fluid drainage, while heavier application can be used to stimulate circulation and loosen "dimpling."

cupping during labourCupping During Labour - Cupping Therapy can be very useful as a pain releiving technique during labour.  This is particularly true in cases where baby is in a posterior position, or doing a full rotation, as there is a lot of internal pressure (stuck energy) on mums sacrum.  Warning: please find a qualified and experienced practitioner, as this technique can increase the likelyhood of bleeding (PPH) if applied inappropriately. 


Contraindications & precautions

  • Inflammed or weakened organs should not be treated directly

  • Cardiovascular Diseases, (as cupping changes blood flow)

  • Anaemic or very weak patients



Visible marks.

Some people have described these as looking as though you have been attacked by a giant octopus!  The marks look similar to 'love-bites' and are circular or, in the case of massage cupping, 'streaky'.  People can respond quite differently so it is hard to say how prominent they will be.  

These marks disappear within 2 - 10 days, and with in some cases will barely be present at all.  

The amount, intensity and duration of coloration is importantand should be observed. Bright red is healthy and will usually disappear very quickly. 

Darker Red and Purpley colors indicate Stagnation or Excess conditions in the client, and the treatment should be repeated along with other therapy (eg. shiatsu, exercise therapies, diet and lifestyle changes as required). 

Severe bruising that turns yellow or greenish is indicative of overtreatment - lower dosages should be used.



When an 'overdose' (excessive dosage) is applied, temporary side-effects of dizziness, nausea, turning pale, diminished vision, discomfort in the chest may be felt. An experienced practitioner is less likely to cause these effects. However if they do occur, seek immediate treatment and do not leave the clinic until these effects have disapated.

Other side-effects

With a very excessive treatment you might also experience excessive fatigue, and feeling drained for days afterward.  This is not good for you. After a good treatment you will feel very relaxed, but not 'drained'.

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